Diving Malaysia is quite similar to Thailand. Similar topography and seasonally very similar too, allowing you to dive all year round on the east and west coasts. The infrastructure is much better in Malaysia than Thailand. It is just as easy to get around via minibus, bus, train or plane. Also Bahasa is easier to learn than Thai. On the main land you have the East side where you have the famous Perhenthain islands. Much further down the East coast the Tioman Islands and on the West, Langkawi island. The last 2 I have not had the chance to dive yet but heard they are ok. Much further East you have a very famous island called Borneo. Borneo is split down the middle, in the north Borneo is Malayasian, in the south its Indonesian. For ultimate diving in Malyasia head for Borneo.
A great place for people who want a cheap place to learn to dive. Its an ok place to go fun diving too with the occasional sighting of Whalesharks. The waters are warm, the diving and courses are cheap and it is a bit of a party island at night. There is an array of different diving from wreck, pinnacles, reefs and swim throughs. Most dive shops are located on the Perhenthain Kecil (small island) where most of the parties occur. However, if you want a more relaxing time head for Perhentain Besar (big island). Here there are still plenty of dive shops to choose from. I chose Flora Bay Divers – good friendly and from what I could see good at sticking to PADI standards whilst teaching.
The best time to go is from April to October. A lot of instructors from Lanta do one season on Lanta then a season in Perhentain so standards of teaching are high. Good dive sites I can recommend are Tokong Laut (Temple of the sea), Terumbu Tiga (The Three Brothers), Sugar Wreck and Tanjung Butong (North Point). The islands have a lot to offer – Bamboo Sharks, Turtles, Nudis, puffers and the odd Whale Shark now and again.
Diving in Borneo is one remarkable place. I worked on an island called Mabul, north east of Borneo for 6 months. Mabul is a small island that is about 20 hectares of land 2 m above sea level. There are around 2500 people living there and 8 dive shops! There are numerous long houses around the island that serve as accommodation, houses, dive shops and shops.
It was my first season as instructor after a season on Koh Lanta, Thailand. I had a remarkable time there. I learnt to teach with very basic facilitates, not so great food, diving in a lot of rubbish and garbage and working long hours. The plus side was some spectacular diving, great friends, learning lots of new skills. I also managed to get plenty of fun dives in when I wasn’t teaching or guiding. I managed to rack up about 700 dives in total in the 7 or so months I was there. Even when you had a day off there was nothing to do so you went fun diving. It was a place that I really had the chance to develop my underwater photography skills.
You go there for the diving alone as there is not much entertainment in the evening. The best time of the year to head there is from June to October. I had always enjoyed macro life and muck diving before I went to Mabul, but Mabul pushed this love and passion a step further. Such diversity in one place and for a fraction of the price that you would find in places like Sulawesi. Turtles are everywhere, to be honest I got bored with seeing them. Especially when you can sometimes see up to 5 on each site!
Nudis are a plenty and a huge range of species from your standard Chromodoris and Flabellina and Nembrothas to Hypselodoris to Glossodris. From time to time some special stuff would pop up too – Flamboyant Cuttle fish, reports of Wonderpus and mimics and always plenty of different types frogfish, ornates and robusts at certain times of the year. Many types of cuttlefish (large and very small), leaf fish, ribbon eels, shake eels, snakes, schools of barracuda, shrimps, mandarin fish, pygmy pipefish, lobsters, octopus and the odd shark or 3!
Dive Sites I can recommend – Pimilia, Paradise 1 and 2, Water Bungalow House Reef (for the massive school of big eyed trevelly), Sea Ventures (dive under an old oil platform), Panglima and Lobster Wall to name just some of the good ones! I you have the chance try and get to Cemal, another island off Mabul. I can really recommend Scuba Junkie to dive with as they have a very professional set up and a great turtle hatchery program.
About 12km from Mabul is the famous island of Sipidan which costs a lot of money to go there (although the permits are a 10th of the sales price) and only 120 permits are issued per day. In all my time on Mabul I never had the chance to go. Many experienced customers who did go there thought it was overrated and the dive guides are a bit haphazard and often lose customers. Many more experienced customers said they preferred diving around Mabul as the variety was much better.